University Health Network hires dozens of co-op students for launch of new health information system

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Two University of Waterloo co-op students working in a hospital setting

By: Ryan Kehoe (he/him)

You have six months to complete and implement a brand-new health information system at the largest research hospital in Canada. What do you do? Hire a talented group of co-op students to help.

Chelsea King headshot
Chelsea King (she/her) (BSC’17)
Change management lead at University Health Network (UHN)

University of Waterloo co-op students are fast learners and can multi-task and shift priorities quickly. These skills were just what the University Health Network (UHN) needed to help implement their new health information system from Epic, with a project called Synapse. The hospital hired 114 UWaterloo co-op students for this transformational project.

Chelsea King (she/her) (BSC’17) is the change management lead for the project at UHN. "It's more than just a job,” she says. “It's really an opportunity to contribute and give back in a way that will impact society."

King believes the healthcare sector is a thriving industry where co-op students can provide value for their employers.

"Working in healthcare is really a privilege,” says King. “Students have that opportunity to see it firsthand, to participate, and to help drive forward change. Change that will benefit patients for generations to come. It really is an amazing experience."

Co-op experience carries over to new digital projects

During her own co-op experience, King worked on a very similar project called Dovetale at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton. After graduating, she was hired on to the project full-time and brought on 60 co-op students to assist.

Of the 60 co-op students King hired for the project, more than half of them came from Waterloo, her alma mater.

Her experience hiring at St. Joseph’s is proving to be beneficial at UHN.

Some of the students who were hired for the St. Joseph's project are returning to assist at UHN’s Synapse project. "We've hired at least a handful of them back onto UHN. Now, in more elevated senior positions as part of the training team—which is great to see," says King.

"We had some really great frameworks in place at St. Joseph's to check in with the students and support them. To make them feel like they weren't just a number but really a contributing member of the team," says King. "That's something that we’re certainly taking forward here to make sure we have success with the large number of students that we're bringing in."

A vital part of the team

King has hired students from many different programs to assist her team with this project, including Health Informatics, Life Sciences, Biology and Science and Business students.

The students UHN hires to assist with this project will take on one of two potential roles: at-the-elbow support or non-medical device testers.

As an ‘elbow’ support, co-op students will assist clinicians directly in dealing with any issues that arise during daily clinical work once the system goes live.

As a non-medical device tester, co-op students will be responsible for ensuring the devices will function as expected with the new system and helping with getting them ready for launch.

King has been a part of five Epic implementation projects and in each project, students were brought into assist. For each project, the co-op students played a very important role.

Chelsea King University of Waterloo grad photo with friends


“They're such quick learners and eager to really get their hands dirty and get involved. It's awesome to have them be part of the team and they really bring a lot of energy to help support this important work.”

- Chelsea King (she/her) (BSC’17), change management at UHN

Waterloo Skills

Through her experience, King knows it is important to be flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances for these types of projects.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, having the ability to adjust quickly to your surroundings is a very important skill while working in the healthcare. She believes co-op students, and Waterloo students, in particular, have that ability.

"As a co-op student, you have to balance taking your midterms with applying for jobs and going through the interview process," says King. “That experience directly applies to the workplace and managing tasks.”

When asked how she feels about helping students who are in the same position she was in a few years ago, King said, "I'm super proud and inspired every day. It's so great to see people working in this industry and having the opportunities to really participate in meaningful projects."